The Disaster That Is LASP
By now, most pilots have heard of the events surrounding John and Martha King's run-in with the aviation security system. There is no reason to fault the police officers that responded with drawn weapons. They reacted the way they are trained. There is no reason to believe that the police officers, most likely non-aviators, knew who John and Martha King were or what they looked like. The typical airplane thief has no standard appearance.
But this situation signifies a great threat to our freedoms as pilots in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. government as a whole have declared us the enemy. We can see this in several notices of proposed rulemaking and regulatory changes made in the past two years: LASP (Large Aircraft Security Program), SD-8G, Operation Playbook and others. I know that some of you aren't even aware of what's coming.
LASP was first published for comment in October of 2008. Its effects would have been a disaster. Most stopped reading at "Large Aircraft" because you don't fly large aircraft as defined by the FARs. Yet the requirements of this proposed regulation are onerous. Among them are: Hire a Director of Security, screen all passengers (to include family), screen all their luggage against the 80,000 items prohibited from a commercial airliner, check all passengers (to include family) against the No-Fly Lists. That's every single pilot out there, aircraft owner or not.
For example, your local airport would no longer be a place to hang out. Fences would have to go up. Flight lines would have to be closed. Most important, if a large aircraft, say a DC-3 or a Hawker, showed up on the ramp, the airport would be closed unless it had SIDA (Security Identification Area) capability. SIDA badges are those worn at airports served by Part 121 carriers to signify the wear has passed a background check and is allowed in certain areas past the security check point. This is because the TSA felt there was a weapon of mass destruction on the ramp and access to it must be denied. So, the ramp will be closed until the WMD leaves, whenever that is.
SD-8G was a badging initiative by the TSA to bring those SIDA badges to some airports, but the list published by the TSA was wrong, containing some airports not under SD-8G and leaving out some that were under SD-8G. Currently the list is classified, so if you fly out to a new destination for the $100 hamburger, you may find yourself at an airport where you are not allowed to leave your airplane without escort. Of course, you can't return to your aircraft without escort either. Let's hope the line boys aren't too busy when you want to leave.
Operation Playbook was another TSA initiative that played out in a few airports for a short time where badged hangar customers--those who had already met the security requirements of the field where they kept their aircraft--were intercepted at their hangar. Their cars were searched and they were patted down. In one incident, a retired military officer was threatened with arrest because the TSA believed he had contraband in his car.
The public comment period for LASP produced between 7000 and 10,000 comments, none of which were positive. AOPA, EAA, NBAA and the other alphabet groups went to the Hill and spoke, Congress got involved, the Congressional GA Caucus was formed. The TSA said "we listened" and are now producing a "kinder and gentler" LASP II which is due out in a month or so, claiming they will incorporate all the complaints into a new and improved document. There is nothing preventing a change from encompassing all aviation in this country the moment the NPRM goes into effect. There is no recourse once this happens.
They assure us there will be no problems; only the bad guys get caught. Yet, the King's experience shows how a nine-year-old database was horribly misused. This database is one of the same ones that will be used in the other programs I mentioned.
We also see how two Yemen citizens from a country where it's apparently normal to duct tape your cellphone to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, were allowed to fly on a commercial airliner and were released because duct taping a cellphone to a Pepto-Bismol bottle isn't against the law. Released by the same folks who will bring you LASP. Yet two aviation icons, who have helped hundreds of thousands of pilots get through their writtens, who were flying a Cessna 172 with a nine-year-old N-number belonging to a stolen 150, kissed concrete because our security system works, according to Secretary Napolitano.
LASP, I or II, SD-8G and so on are not workable solutions. Period. The TSA/DHS has three published internal reports that state General Aviation is not a threat to national security. They are mere restrictions to your freedom of flight for no apparent reason. When LASP II comes out, probably sometime around the end of October, don't stop reading at Large Aircraft, call your senator or representative now, before elections, and tell them what you think and how you'll vote. Call AOPA, EAA, et al, and tell them not to seek compromise and declare victory.
You can learn more about the TSA and its attempts to curtail your freedom at http://www.stoplasp.com/
Don't forget to speak out.
John Hyle is a Captain for a U.S. Part 121 carrier, a long time CFI, warbird owner and a former USAF fighter pilot who started in GA.